Unrequired Reading {25.1.09}

January 25, 2009

Unrequired Reading

These are some of the things that have caught my attention lately. It’s a more eclectic mix than just the news business, but then so’s life:

  • When No News Is Bad News | James Warren – So much public information and official government knowledge depends on a private business model that is now failing. Journalism acknowledges and illuminates complexity, and at the same time prioritizes, helping us to evaluate the relative significance of developments playing out all around us. A very shrewd journalist-entrepreneur I know, Steve Brill, asks that one just imagine walking into a library and seeing the pages of all the books scattered on the floors and stairwells. To be sure, editors are human and subjectivity plays a role, but a newspaper places those pages—and thus the news—in some sensible order.

    And, importantly, there’s a sense of social mission. Good journalism keeps public and private officials honest and helps citizens make thoughtful decisions. It does this by systematically gathering, processing, and checking relevant information, and by doing it with a spirit of independence.

  • Media acquisition, the French way | Monday Note – Nicolas Sarkozy made the following calculation. $200m per year to please the newspaper barons is small change compared to €21bn to save the French banking system or €6bn for the car industry. In normal times, fiscal responsibility would not allow such profligacy (especially within the constraining EU guidelines). Today, $200m is nothing compared to the upside: the French media groups are satisfied and relieved. Tax-breaks will have almost immediate effects on balance sheets and there is no doubt that all financial locks are thrown open: Friday after Sarkozy’speech, a government official told me some news outlets were, as usual, already negotiating subsidies payments in advance. He was implicitly confirming that one paper was even asking for a two-year upfront payment from the government!
  • Obama Should Address CIA Assassinations | intelNews.org – A country that wishes to claim its “place among nations that respect the rule of law and human dignity” does not have the luxury of being selective in implementing the rule of law to which it aspires. Moreover, we, the citizens of the United States, in whose name the government in Washington is fighting the “war on terror”, deserve the right to examine the evidence informing the decision-making behind CIA’s assassination policy. We should not be satisfied with vague speculations that “a high-value target may be among the dead”, as one unnamed “Pakistani security official” said in reference to Friday’s missile attacks.

    At least 132 people are said to have died in 38 CIA missile strikes in Pakistan during the last few months. No evidence has so far been presented to justify these killings. What is more, we have no official proof of any attempts to arrest, extradite, interrogate, try and punish these individuals in accordance with US legal standards.

  • Al-Jazeera drew US viewers on Web during Gaza war | The Associated Press – American viewership of Al-Jazeera English rose dramatically during the Israel-Hamas war, partly because the channel had what CNN and other international networks didn't have: reporters inside Gaza.
    But the viewers weren't watching it on television, where the Arab network's English-language station has almost no U.S. presence.
    Instead, the station streamed video of Israel's offensive against Hamas on the Internet and took advantage of emerging online media such as the microblogging Web site Twitter to provide real-time updates.
  • BBC and the Gaza appeal | Mark Thompson – After looking at all of the circumstances, and in particular after seeking advice from senior leaders in BBC Journalism, we concluded that we could not broadcast a free-standing appeal, no matter how carefully constructed, without running the risk of reducing public confidence in the BBC's impartiality in its wider coverage of the story. Inevitably an appeal would use pictures which are the same or similar to those we would be using in our news programmes but would do so with the objective of encouraging public donations. The danger for the BBC is that this could be interpreted as taking a political stance on an ongoing story. When we have turned down DEC appeals in the past on impartiality grounds it has been because of this risk of giving the public the impression that the BBC was taking sides in an ongoing conflict.
  • Catherine Bennett: Ulrika licking a fish is not my idea of public service TV | The Observer – To listen to Duncan is to be none the wiser. So rarely, when asking for money, does he mention a single, meritorious programme that makes the place worth saving that you wonder if he has noticed that his channel's "content", or, when the specific mood takes him, "high-quality British content", tends be divided into half-hour, or longer chunks, featuring a range of subjects and people. Then again, during his glory days at Unilever, it may not have been expected that, as a marketing professional, he should personally eat, or mix, I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, or be able to distinguish it from that company's other varieties of grease.

    Yet it remains a habit of viewers, and maybe even of content makers, to compare programmes, and to make value judgments about the superiority of, say, The Wire, on the US commercial channel HBO, over any original drama serial recently shown on Channel 4. It is even possible, having noticed this sort of discrepancy, that members of the public will wonder

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